Tijuana – 6/29/17 – Mision 19 and Tacos El Franc

Mision 19
I don’t know what the typical dining scene is in Tijuana on a weekday but I was very surprised to almost have the entire restaurant to myself for lunch.  Javier Plascencia had a place right down the street from my new apartment but unfortunately it closed before I moved.  My lunch at Mision 19 was lovely as was the service and for a minute I really wasn’t sure where I was but I wouldn’t have guessed Tijuana.  If you find yourself in Baja California absolutely seek out one of Plascencia’s spots.

Tacos El Franc
I really hope that some of the rumors of Mexican taco spots moving north of the border come to fruition.  These were delicious and ridiculously cheap.

Tulum – 4/23/17 – Taqueria Honorio, Kitchen Table and Hartwood

I feel that I am ruined for tacos forever.  These were fantastic and I still can’t get over how inexpensive they were.  I can only dream of someday finding tacos as good north of the border.  It was so sad that the next two mornings in Tulum I biked here first thing in the morning hoping it would be open, but it sadly was not.

Kitchen Table

I was insistent that we go to Hartwood while some others in the group wanted to try Kitchen Table so double dinner it was.  If only we had stayed here!

deviled avocado

crispy shrimp

costilla de cerdo

pulpo a la parrilla

It has been over 3 months and I am still pissed off about this dinner.  Before Noma temporarily set up shop in Tulum, Hartwood was THE place to go so of course I had to get in (challenging when they aren’t especially responsive to reservation requests).  When one of my friends had a terrible experience with the front of house staff the night before my visit it should have been a sign, but I was willing to disregard one bad experience despite completely trusting the source.  Many restaurants in Tulum are cash-only, such as Kitchen Table which we visited earlier in the evening.  It is absolutely no problem when you know that ahead of time and we showed up prepared at Kitchen Table.  But it turns out that Hartwood is cash-only which they don’t tell you on their website, in their confirmation emails or on social media.  As we were waiting for our table at the front of the restaurant we became aware of the policy via the menu board and confirmed with one of the staff who was almost too ready to point us to the nearest ATM, or 3 because we were told they would likely all be out of pesos.  Two of us set off down the road where indeed it took us 3 ATMs to find one with any money at all, although it was out of pesos yet oddly dispensed USD with a hefty service charge (about $30 which makes those $3 fees look like pennies).  At this point I was furious and felt completely ripped off.  Why are the only ATMs on the tourist strip of Tulum dispensing only USD other than to take advantage of the tourists?  And if I would have known about the policy I would have withdrawn more cash from the ATM at a legitimate bank in town earlier in the day.

By the time we hiked back to Hartwood I was a bit over the whole thing.  When the check came it was conveniently (for the restaurant) in both pesos and USD and the USD amount was at a truly atrocious exchange rate.  So between the ATM fee and the exchange rate I estimate we paid about double what we should have for this dinner.  No matter how much I may spend on food I despise being taken advantage of.  I was so pissed off by the end that I honestly have no idea what we ate and how good it was.  It didn’t matter.  Sometimes great food offsets poor hospitality (i.e. Major Food Group) but there is a point of no return.  To quote a friend who visited a few weeks after me and had an abysmal service experience, “Fu*k Hartwood.”  While Noma was in Tulum the Hartwood staff should have taken the opportunity to walk down the street and learn what great hospitality is.

Tulum – 4/22/17 – Noma Mexico

I was originally very ambivalent about going to Noma Mexico.  While I loved my visit to Noma, I never had an interest in their other pop-ups and in general pop-ups tend to feel ‘off’ to me.  When we managed to get tickets I thought it was all a bit crazy, more so because of the heat and bugs than the cost and distance.  Yes it was expensive but after seeing how much work went into building this restaurant from scratch I immediately realized that the ticket price was nowhere near expensive enough.  I tried not to worry what would happen if it rained as the restaurant was open to the elements.  Sure enough a few courses into dinner the raindrops started and while some tables were sheltered, we were not.  Before I could even start to wallow in my bad luck, we were whisked into the kitchen.  It turns out that there was a rain contingency plan (I should have known better).  Throughout the kitchen counters folded up to create bar seating and in the end every guest was relocated if not already seated under a roof.  It should have been complete chaos with the FOH staff occupied with moving people and chairs and bringing fresh drinks to keep everyone happy.  Meanwhile as lovely as the ‘dining room’ was, we were just thrilled to suddenly have a first row kitchen table seat.  A similar event would probably throw any other restaurant into a tailspin that they could never recover from, but service seemed to restart in a matter of minutes.  The whole thing was so impressive I talked about it for weeks afterwards.  I can’t even imagine how many times it was rehersed.  Aside from the fantastic hospitality, Noma managed to create a menu that 100% felt like them but with entirely local ingredients.  I suppose this is what an ideal pop-up should be, but is generally impractical to execute without this sort of large scale commitment.  Despite the dozens of bug bites I didn’t want it to be over (and briefly considered how truly crazy it would be to try to go a second time).

pinuela and tamarind

queen clam from the Sea of Cortez

salbute with dried tomatoes and chapulines

cold masa broth with lime and all the flowers of the moment

young coconut and caviar

tropical fruit and chile de arbol

banana ceviche

tortilla ladies

chaya taco with fresh bahia salsa oyster

giant key and mussel michelada

whole grilled pumpkin

tostada with escamoles

just cooked octopus with ‘dzikilpak’

cerdo pelon and fresh milled corn from Yaxunah

dessert of grilled avocado and matey seeds

chocolate from native Jaguar cacao and Mixe chile

Mexico City – 4/21/17 – Nico’s, Limantour, and Quintonil

Mexico City’s traffic is so terrible that we spent most of the day going to and from lunch but it was completely worth it for the guacamole cart alone.  I think the Eater article calling this the best restaurant in Mexico city was a bit too much, but its still an must-do.  No dish descriptions because we muddled through ordering from an only spanish menu.

For pre-dinner cocktails we headed to Limantour’s Polanco location which was close to dinner.  Great drinks and space and I think deserving of its place on World’s 50 Best.

How Quintonil is even in the World’s 100 Best, let alone currently at number 22 is one of the many reasons the list is complete bs.  From the moment we sat down service was confused and just poor as if the right hand did not know what the left was doing.  And despite having inquired ahead of time, they seemed perplexed that we had brought some wine and almost did not know what to do with it.  I made it through the escaroles but when we got to the peas in a chia and tomato broth dish, which was pretty terrible, I had wished so much that we had booked Pujol for a second night in a row.

cactus ceviche with beetroot and orange

shrimp “flauta” with a squash blossom “aguachile”

seafood “vuelve a la vida” ear shell clam, beef tongue with noisette spices

charred avocado tartare with escaroles and mexican herb chips

peas in a chia and clarified tomato broth and smoked lard

trout “puerto nuevo” style, with fermented cabbage and sea weed mojo

dry aged duck breast with bitter almond and habanero puree, with hibiscus and figs

cactus sorbet

six and twelve month aged Ramonetti cheese, mandarin, honey and pumpkin seed

frozen mousse of roasted banana, cateja and basil

Mexico City – 4/20/17 – Contramar, Hanky Panky and Pujol

This was an absolutely perfect first stop upon arriving in Mexico City.  We muddled through ordering and ended up with a perfect lunch.

Hanky Panky
I do love a hidden bar.  I won’t share many details to respect their wishes to keep the place secret.  But the entrance was indeed challenging to find and the drinks great.

As this was my first trip to Mexico City I did not visit the old Pujol so I can’t really compare.  But I absolutely loved everything about the design of the new one.  And I loved everything about this dinner which has easily been one of the highlights of my year thus far.  Some of these were not necessarily super intricate dishes but they were delicious.  Fantastic octopus and maybe the best cauliflower dish I have ever had.  And why isn’t steak always served with a side of guacamole and a hot pepper?  The mole was all that it was advertised to be although admittedly I decided that mole isn’t my favorite thing in the world (but if it was this is certainly the best out there).

street snacks

octopus, habanero ink, ayocote, veracruzana sauce

cauliflower, almond salsa mocha, chile de árbol

wagyu, fennel seeds, herb guacamole

mole madre 1257 days, mole nuevo